US novelist, playwright, and essayist.
Vidal was born in New York at West Point, the son of an instructor of aeronautics at the US Military Academy. He grew up in Washington, where his father became director of Air Commerce under Roosevelt and his grandfather, Senator T. P. Gore, represented Oklahoma in Congress. He was educated at Philips Exeter Academy, New Hampshire. In 1943 he enlisted in the army, serving as a warrant officer and then as first mate on an army supply vessel in the Aleutians, an experience drawn on in his first novel, Williwaw (1946), written when he was nineteen. His third book, The City and the Pillar (1948), dealt with homosexuality and was considered outspoken at the time. The Judgment of Paris (1952) made use of the myth in relating a story about Americans in Europe. In 1960 Vidal ran for Congress; although not elected, he made a respectable showing, receiving more votes, he noted, than had John Kennedy in similar circumstances. His play, The Best Man (1960), drew on this experience. Vidal's intimate knowledge of American politics is matched by a talent for historical writing, as in the political novels Washington D.C. (1967), Burr (1973), 1876 (1976), Lincoln (1984), and in Julian (1964), perhaps his best historical novel, on Julian the Apostate. Hollywood and sexual ambivalence are the subjects of Myra Breckinridge (1968) and Hollywood (1989). His other fiction includes Creation (1981), a novel set in the fifth century bc involving the memoirs of Zoroaster's grandson, and Duluth (1983), a satire on Middle American political, cultural, and sexual peculiarities. Vidal's many essays cover a wide range of subjects and form a distinguished and witty commentary on cultural and political life in America. Among the collections are Rocking the Boat (1962), Reflections upon a Sinking Ship (1969), The Second American Revolution and Other Essays (1976–1982) (1982), and United States: Essays 1952–92 (1993). A Thirsty Evil (1956) is a collection of short stories. He has also written a travel book, Vidal in Venice (1987), and several screenplays. Palimpsest, a volume of memoirs, appeared in 1995.